46 dead in Albania earthquake as more bodies are pulled from the rubble

The death toll from a powerful earthquake in Albania rose to 46 on Thursday as more bodies were pulled out of the rubble overnight following a tragedy that killed entire families.

The 6.4-magnitude quake struck the Balkan state while residents were asleep before 4 am (0300 GMT) Tuesday, destroying entire buildings and trapping victims in rubble in towns near the Adriatic coast.

Rescue teams were still sweeping large pieces of rubble from collapsed apartments and hotels in the coastal city of Durres, where some 30 buildings were badly damaged.

Teams from all over Europe came to help with the rescue efforts, brought dogs and specialized cameras to search for survivors, and about 50 of them were pulled alive, mostly Tuesday.

The operation lasted three days, and rescuers confirmed that there was still hope to find more survivors.

"There may be hope for up to eight or 10 days" for the victims to survive the quake, French rescue worker Captain Joel Leroy told AFP.

His team of about 50 is looking for two people believed to have been buried at the site of a seven-storey building in Durres.

He explained that there may be victims in so-called "pockets of life" that contain air allowing them to breathe under the rubble.

"That's why we're working hard."

Search efforts were halted Thursday in the quake-hit town of Thoman, where the Defense Ministry said there were no more missing after more than 20 bodies had been withdrawn in recent days.

Overnight, rescuers found the body of a mother and her son from the Reese family, hugging. They were crushed under the weight of a six-story building in Doris.

The whole family perished in the earthquake, where the bodies of the father and daughter were withdrawn the previous day, according to Ilir Doka, an Albanian rescuer at the scene.

Similar tragedies have hit other families after the quake destroyed their homes asleep.

Relatives watched rescuers pull out bodies covered in gray dust. On Tuesday, the sound of a woman crying was heard from inside a broken building, where she was stuck inside with a dead child. She was eventually rescued, but later died in hospital.

About 50 survivors were taken to hospital "in shock and anxiety about their loved ones," Defense Ministry spokeswoman Albana Kahgag told AFP.

The exact number of people buried in the rubble is not known.

With the help of teams from all over Europe, rescuers are working in precarious conditions where hundreds of aftershocks shake buildings and halt search efforts.

"It's an arduous process, but that's why we are here," said one Italian rescue worker.

"Hope is the last to die," he said, adding that survivors were found four days after an earthquake in some cases.

The Italian team was working with dogs to search a four-storey house belonging to the Lala family and their relatives, which was completely destroyed by the quake.

Fatima's neighbor, wearing black and tears pouring out of her eyes, told AFP that a mother and her two young children were among the missing under the rubble.

Thousands of people have been displaced, either because their homes have been severely damaged, or remain unsafe because of aftershocks.

On Wednesday evening, authorities in Durres transported homeless people sleeping in tents to hotels and a sports center.

Prime Minister Eddie Rama has promised to resettle the new homeless by next year. Illegal construction is widespread in Albania, where informal construction boomed dramatically after the fall of communism in 1990.

Many buildings have not received the necessary permits and do not comply with safety regulations.


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